April 16, 2009

Short and Sweet

The buzz around the TV world these days is about short-term, high-concept series. Here’s why. High-concept shows often:
  • Are too niche to grab onto a large enough audience to make networks feel like they’re worth their timeslot (‘Think: ‘Pushing Daisies’)
  • After an initial rush of excitement, burn out quickly with lame, that’s-a-stretch plotlines that leave audiences running for the door and advertisers reeling (Sound familiar, one-time ‘Heroes’ fans?)
  • Don’t catch on quickly enough with a large enough audience to finance their costly production budgets (That would be Joss Whedon’s entire post-Buffy catalogue).
Instead of hoping every show has what it takes to go 9 seasons, short-term series would be specifically developed to be just that – short-term. Imagine: Plots and characters are introduced to tell one specific story. Creators don’t have to dilute their original idea. Networks don’t have to invest in shows they’re not certain have legs. And fans don’t have to worry about being left behind with a half-finished plot crossing their fingers for a DVD set.

By setting an end date to its wildly popular show years in advance, ‘Lost’ may have set the precedent for a short-term TV series. The creators are telling the audience that the show knows where it’s going, and the audience becomes extra devoted to every single episode, since each one offers a payoff leading to the final, what-can-only-be, mind blowing conclusion.

I think reality television also deserves some credit for the idea, because what else have 27 seasons of ‘Survivor,’ ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘Biggest Loser’ taught us, if not that we can care about characters and developments that happen over only 6 weeks just as much – if not sometimes more – than any fictional show?

If it’s done right (and the first attempt by the major networks – 'Harper’s Island' – isn’t quite right), I’d be excited about getting some of these shows on my TV-watching schedule. I think it could lead to more unexpected actors appearing on TV, since they won’t feel like they’re signing their lives away, and I think that we could all benefit from smarter television, that isn’t watered down in an attempt to appeal to everyone or last forever.

So, what do you think? Would you latch onto a series that's designed to be short-lived, or would it not be worth your time?


My Irish is Up said...

I think it is definitely the way to go. There are so many choices every single day, you can only TIVO so many and I'm sure that I never even start watching a lot of worthwhile series because I just can't invest the time in more than 3 or 4. And once you are invested in those, you never want to miss them, which keeps you from venturing out of your comfort zone.

Trevor said...

At the beginning of a series, I think I like not knowing how long it will go. For two reasons: I like thinking that I could know these characters "forever"; I also feel that my support (via viewership) means less for a show with a definite end. The End is difficult no matter what ... few shows nail it with no regrets, and I'm sure that won't be different with these short shows.